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After Moorhead Muslim woman harassed over hijab, some say treatment is common

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Fardoso Mohamed talks Monday, March 20, 2017, in Moorhead about how another customer harassed her and shouted at her to remove her hijab when she went grocery shopping Saturday. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 2

MOORHEAD — Fardoso Mohamed had just walked into Hornbacher's supermarket on Saturday afternoon when a man stopped her and told her: "Hey, you need to remove the hijab."

The man, a customer who looked to be in his 60s or 70s, was referring to Mohamed's head covering, the kind worn by some Muslim women in public.

With her 1-year-old son in tow, Mohamed ignored the man. He, in turn, shouted at her, telling her not to enter the store. "He was very close to me, and he was yelling very hard, very mad," said Mohamed, who is pregnant.

Mohamed and her cousin, Hamida Dakane, say the harassment of hijab-wearing women is not unusual in the Fargo-Moorhead area. "I know the bigger community in Moorhead is way better than one individual's action. But, again, things like that do happen," said Dakane, a community organizer for the Afro American Development Association, a Moorhead group that helps refugees find work.

Mohamed said she walked away from the man bothering her at Hornbacher's. But he followed her through the store and confronted her again about her hijab. She told him it was "none of your business."

A Hornbacher's employee, also a woman wearing a head covering, told the man to show respect for Mohamed, and he eventually left the store. Mohamed said she reported the man's behavior to police who came to the store at 101 11th St. S.

Lt. Tory Jacobson, a Moorhead police spokesman, said that the man's treatment of Mohamed was rude, but no charges are pending against him in a case that remains an open investigation. Jacobson said police are trying to identify the man through surveillance video and interview him.

Jacobson said Moorhead police don't receive a significant number of calls regarding the harassment of hijab-wearing women. "I think most people are accepting and understanding that we are one community," he said.

However, Dakane said such harassment often goes unreported because of language barriers or fears of retaliation. To bring the issue to light, she made a video of Mohamed talking with police at the grocery store on Saturday, March 18, and posted it on Facebook. By Monday evening, the video had been viewed 47,000 times and had received many comments showing support for Mohamed.

"A lot of positive energy came out of this," Dakane said.

Born in Kenya while her family was living in a refugee camp, Mohamed came to Moorhead in 2012. She said she's glad she reported the encounter to police. But the experience has left her scared and sad because nothing like it has ever happened to her before.

"It was shock to me," she said. "It's like this guy, he have a lot of hate inside his heart."

Hukun Abdullahi, the father of Mohamed's son, said he went to Hornbacher's to help her after she was harassed. Coincidentally, Abdullahi, executive director of the Afro American Development Association, has been working to start a local conversation about hate crimes in North Dakota, which, according to FBI records, ranked second in the nation in hate crimes per capita in 2015.

Part of the conversation has been empowering people to call police when they're victimized. And so after Mohamed was harassed, Abdullahi said, he knew it needed to be reported.

"It was like it happen to me," he said.

Dr. Eram Shahira, a nephrologist with Sanford Health, said she's heard about the recent wave of hate-driven incidents across the country, but learning of what happened to Mohamed was "kind of unbelievable."

"This is unexpected from Fargo-Moorhead," said Shahira, who wears a hijab.

Shahira, who immigrated from India to North Dakota 15 years ago, said she hasn't experienced any hijab-related harassment. She said her patients are appreciative of her, but outside of work, a small percentage of people stereotype her as uneducated when they see her in a hijab.

Shahira said women who don hijabs are just like other American women. "We take care of the kids. We work," she said. "Why am I differentiated because I am choosing to wear a hijab?"

Dakane said wearing a hijab is part of who she is, part of her identity. For Mohamed, it's "part of our beauty."

An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Lt. Tory Jacobson as saying the man accused of harassment had broken no laws. 

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